Studio Time: Snap Crackle and Pixel Pops
Posted Aug 1, 2005

When a task is simple, we call it a "snap." When an idea bursts with energy and vivacity, we say it "crackles." And when event videographers—generally known more for their shooting and editing expertise than for their graphic design skills—want an Internet presence that "pops," they often turn to PixelPops Design, LLC.

Founded in April 1999 by co-owners Lance Gray and Brian Gunn (fellow co-owner Russ Jolly joined the company less than a year later), PixelPops is a veritable jack-of-all-trades operation that eschews formal job titles in favor of an "everyone pitches in where needed" philosophy. The Richardson, Texas-based studio—a 2,500-square-foot facility equipped with office space, four editing stations, a media duplication center, a production and shooting area, a kitchen, and a private video game arcade—leverages the 25 years of collective video production experience the self-described "PixelMonkeys" amassed prior to forming the company, but its offerings extend far beyond traditional point-and-shoot videography.

Getting "Pixelated"
Spend any time surfing videographers' Web sites, and you're bound to find the PixelPops name on many of them. In fact, PixelPops is perhaps best known within the videography community as a designer, developer, and host of fellow videographers' sites. To date, the company has built (and in most cases, hosts) the sites of more than 230 videographers. It also hosts 300 sites created by other designers and designs/hosts the sites of businesses in other industries.

"We always viewed graphics and Web development as an extension of what we already were doing with video production as videographers," Jolly explains. "A Web site often is a potential client's first introduction to a videographer, so it needs to leave a good impression. If you have no site, or your site sucks, customers will pass you by because you're not adequately demonstrating the creative, artistic services you can provide."

In addition to designing and hosting Web sites, PixelPops' co-owners shoot an average of five to ten special events and corporate projects each month; encode video for digital playback formats, including MPEG-1 for CD-ROM, MPEG-2 for DVD, and Windows Media, Real Media, and QuickTime for streaming video on the Web; develop companion software for Adobe Photoshop and Encore users; and provide software and graphic design training to videographers, designers, and other media professionals. They also offer corporate video production services; video duplication, transfers, and conversions through partner company Action Video Service; wedding videography through partner company Blue Sky Media Group; and DVD authoring services.

"We have our thumbs in a lot of pies," Jolly concedes when asked about PixelPops' diversified service model. "All three of us operated our own video businesses before we created PixelPops, so we understand the challenges of being the sole proprietor of a small business. We're well-acquainted with the challenges of managing time and competing demands."

As a result, the PixelMonkeys have made it their mission to help their fellow videographers strengthen their businesses. "What I think we've done really well is to listen to the needs of the event videography community and then try to fulfill those needs," Jolly continues. "Everyone in this industry is looking for a way to advance his or her business, but it's hard to keep up with the technology, the sales and marketing, and the day-to-day operations. As videographers have asked for help with certain tasks, like building their Web sites, we've tried to come up with products and services that will help them."

Adds Gunn: "Videographers, by and large, are shooters and editors. That's what they do, and that's where their talent lies. Every day, they're forced to do things for their businesses that aren't necessarily their forte. If they could unshackle themselves from these tasks, or minimize the amount of time they spend on them, they would have more time to focus on their craft and to do what they do best. That's where we come in."

Untangling the Web
Ironically, PixelPops' imprint on videographer Web sites began somewhat inadvertently. "We designed our local videographer association's Web site, so other local videographers began looking to us to design their sites, too," Gray says of the company's gradual evolution into a site developer for the masses. "They liked the quality and the contemporary nature of our graphic design, and they wanted something similar for their own sites." Trouble was, "they didn't want to spend the $4,000 to $8,000 it can take to go back and forth with different design techniques," he says. "They wanted the custom look without the custom price."

And so began the PopSites program. Launched in August 2001, PopSites gives videographers a choice of nearly 40 pre-designed site templates that can be customized and personalized for their businesses. Each design consists of six pages—Home, About Us, Services, FAQs, Contact Us, and View Video—and will accommodate up to 12 images and a five-minute streaming video clip for both high and low bandwidths. Each design also includes starter marketing text (for clients who aren't comfortable writing their own), access to a 300-picture gallery of stock images, and video encoding services. "Clients can use as much or as little of the stock materials as they choose," Jolly explains. "We encourage them to personalize their sites as much as they can."

A majority of the styles are priced at $995, though a handful featuring Flash cost $1,395. Clients who choose to have PixelPops host their sites pay $29.95 to $39.95 per month for what Jolly describes as "a generous amount" of server space and bandwidth for streaming video. The company provides "managed hosting," which means it will make small editorial changes to customer sites at no charge, and gives "strict territorial exclusivity" to customers. "We'd like for each client to have as unique a Web presence as possible, so we ensure that no one in a client's regional market has the same site design," he explains.

The goal, Jolly continues, is to keep things as simple as possible. "Most of our clients—about 80% of whom are videographers—don't know much about Web sites, and they don't want to know," he says. "They just want a complete solution that doesn't require them to do much in terms of setting up or maintaining their site. They don't really care about the numbers as long as the site works and it helps them market their businesses."

Pop Goes the World
How can a company with what Jolly describes as "many plates spinning at once" possibly market itself? "Creativity has always made the difference for us," he says.

"We're always looking for ways to anticipate what the industry's needs are and to make things faster and easier for videographers," Gunn adds. "We challenge ourselves to think outside the box. Our goal is to make sure we're helping our clients achieve their own level of creativity and to be the best businesses they can be."

Indeed, it seems the PixelMonkeys are always working on something new. Recent innovations include PopDrops, a collection of 150 background and matching CD face designs for its Visual Composer Pro interactive VideoCD authoring software; PixelMixer Case and Disc Designer, a software tool that automates time-consuming Photoshop tasks and creates customized, professional-looking case inserts and disc designs in less than 30 seconds; and Pop-Ins, a collection of one-click, graphic-building actions for Photoshop. By the time you read this, the company will be marketing a set of DVD menu templates that work with Adobe Encore to create motion menus. Also coming down the pike: Easy Edit Websites, a Web service that will allow customers to build their own sites.

"People in the event videography business have come to expect this from us," Gray says of PixelPops' ongoing efforts to give videographers tools they want, tools they never knew they wanted, and tools they ultimately find they can't live without. "What could we do that no one would ever think of us doing?" he asks. "That's the question we're always trying to answer."

Cameras: Sony DCR-VX2000, Sony DSR-300, Sony DSR-20

Hardware: Canopus DVStorm and Raptor NLE; NewTek VT[4] NLE; Leitch DPS Velocity NLE; Cassie NLE; Pioneer eight-bay DVD burners; Primera Signature Z6 CD/DVD color printer and Epson Stylus R200 photo printer; Sharp 35-deck VHS dub rack with two SD-11 distribution amplifiers.

Software: Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe After Effects, and Adobe Encore DVD; NewTek LightWave 3D; Macromedia Flash, Macromedia Dreamweaver, and Macromedia HomeSite; SwiSH Flash animation software; and Sony Pictures Vegas

Services: Web site design, development, and hosting; video encoding and streaming; wedding and corporate videography; media duplication; and software development and training